Connecticut is awesome.

Donald and Steve discuss — in broad terms — some of the realities and the appeals of living in Connecticut. This is not a digression-free episode, but everything eventually relates back to the Nutmeg State.

 A UConn advertisement prominently displayed near airport security at Bradley International Airport.  Donald Pendagast.
A UConn advertisement prominently displayed near airport security at Bradley International Airport.  Donald Pendagast.

This first episode, as we’ll be tackling some more local issues, we want to start broad. The state economy, from the general banter that we hear, is in tatters (e.g. GE moves headquarters, Aetna is leaving). Some talk about the sad state of manufacturing. But surely there has to be more than an economics story — good or bad — that makes a place worthwhile right? What makes a place worthy or not? When people are biased towards their home state or poo-poo another’s, what goes into that thinking? 

In the end, these might be the wrong questions to be asking. It may be more nuanced; surely it is. But it is interesting to listen to the nay-sayers and the supporters to get a glimpse of just what is going on and what may be next.

Questions

  • We live in Connecticut, so what’s up with the Constitution State?
  • What makes a state good? What do we look for?
  • What distinguishes Connecticut?
  • What characterizes Connecticut?
  • What’s to love?
  • What is next for Connecticut? (And for whom?)

Show Notes

I have to state, for the record, my own bias. When I was in the third grade, we were each assigned to a state and I got Connecticut. I could not have been happier. Look, I am from Maine, and from many accounts, Vacationland is a fabulous place, but my family was from Connecticut and we would visit frequently. Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport was one of my favorite places to go in the summer. After college, I found myself living in Hartford, and as an adult, moving to Connecticut — when friends and classmates were in Boston, New York, Silicon Valley — was a tough pill to swallow. Yet, I have made it home, and ten years later here we are.

In preparing for this conversation, I went right to searching the first thing that came to mind: “Connecticut is Awesome”. One of the first results, was a Buzzfeed article from 2015 titled, 29 Reasons Connecticut Is The Most Underrated State, which outlines 29 things in their typical listicle fashion. Low and behold, their number one reason (Since Connecticut is small in size, sometimes people fail to realize how awesome it actually is) isn’t even a reason, it’s a statement about some hypothetically unobservant people. That’s the number one reason? To the author of this abysmal piece of writing, Krystie Lee Yandoli, I ask: why? To be clear, this has always been the number one thing people have said to me, but I so hoped to find something else listed when conducting this search. Alas, the inter webs concurs with my network of friends.

Even UConn has a pathetic paragraph with the heading “Life in Hartford” (not Connecticut at-large, but it echos the same issue) that reads: “Restaurants, gyms, sporting events and other entertainment are just outside our front door in downtown Hartford, while Boston, New York, winter skiing in Vermont and summer trips to the ocean are all within a few hours.” That’s all of it. The first three items are commonplace and the second half is dedicated to things outside Connecticut. C’mon Nutmeggers, can’t we do better than this?

On the more economic point, one article from CERC — the Connecticut Economic Resource Center — highlights the population change in Connecticut, which is down 0.1% overall, one of only four states to experience a loss in population over the period from 2010-2016. 

Is there merit to this idea that Connecticut is worthy because it is easy to places like New York and Boston? It is certainly could be a selling point if you are someone on the go or who likes to travel. If, however, you actually care about Boston or New York, then the best option is Boston or New York. Why would Connecticut — or anyone vouching for it — directly reference these metropolitan areas? How can you define Connecticut’s awesomeness by pointing to extreme awesomeness to the left and the right? It blows my mind and Ms. Yandoli is far from the first person I have seen make this shoddy point. Worst yet, it is often the very first thing people have said to me, in various casual conversations, citing why we are a formidable state.

When we talk about Connecticut, what are we talking about? 

Friends of mine — some of whom have lived in CT for a time —are generally quick to put CT down.

After recording the podcast, Donald was flying back into Bradley International Airport (BDL) and noticed the very large UConn advertisement. It really emphasizes being able to go anywhere — echoing the concern that we define what’s great about our state by drawing attention to everything outside of it. To give them the benefit of the doubt, it is an airport after all. People do go all sorts of places from there. Is that what they were thinking? We’ll ask and report back.

Steve’s Notes

30 something’s are moving into Connecticut.

Evidence of a good Connecticut economy:

It looks as though Aetna will be sticking around.

Next Time

We’re looking to speak with a Connecticut State Representative about everything we’ve discussed here and capture his thoughts. Stay tuned.

What will device culture mean for our kids?

The last morning of my Colorado ski weekend was spent in the hotel lobby having breakfast and waiting for the airport shuttle to arrive. There was a family sitting across the way — two parents and three kids — who looked to be done eating. The two adults were sitting on either ends of the table, both staring into their iPhones. Two of the children, who’s faces I could see, appeared to be rather bored. In a judgmental moment, I wondered what the adults were thinking. Was this acceptable or were they simply oblivious to their behavior? More curiously, I wondered what they were doing on their devices that had them captivated?

 Photo: D. Pendagast
Photo: D. Pendagast

It would be easy to rat out parents for their lack of…parenting. But this is not about telling parents how to be a parent and more about whether or not we are giving thoughtful consideration for what our device usage will mean for our kids. I remember the first couple times I babysat and how tempting it always was to stick a VHS tape of Scooby-Doo and let the kids zone out on front of the television. It would happen, but towards the end, after we had played tag or hide-and-seek or whatever game we would play. With devices and screens in all of our hands, to what unintended consequences will we be subjecting our young people?

Jean Twenge, writing for The Atlantic:

But the impact of these [smartphones] has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health.

It is not enough to say that parents need to educate themselves. Dr. Twenge is helping lead a group of investor activists aimed towards Apple Inc. and their iOS device software. They are publicly advocating that Apple integrate more stringent parental controls to both monitor and limit the usage or screen time that children have of these devices. In an interview with On Point, when asked why this is a problem for Apple and why this doesn’t point to a need for more attentive parents, she quickly points to other initiatives that Apple has taken up (e.g. climate change, social justice) and how it has positively contributed towards its bottom-line.

I did not find her interview compelling. I am not yet convinced this is a technological problem in need of a technological solution. Why should parents not be held more responsible? Are there no third-party apps that can track your child’s usage? The example that came to mind when hearing this was when automobile manufacturers were required to include seatbelts, this makes sense. Accidents happen and sometimes we are not at fault when they do. Regulations and laws requiring such safety measures are necessary. Personal device use however seems to fall outside of this. What is it that companies like Apple are responsible for here? Has designing for addiction created a valid rationale for us to demand Apple and others implement their own “seatbelts” to safe guard children and others from excessive use? How do we or how have we proven this already?

I wonder how exactly to design for this. Does the phone shut down after a period of time or does it only accept incoming phone calls from approved people after a certain time? Their research suggests that it is not important what the person is doing on the device, but a positive correlation between total usage time and risk to mental health.

My lens on this is my now two-year-old nephew. My brother and my sister-in-law are absolutely amazing to allow us to FaceTime with him and regularly share photos and videos. We get to see his personality developing and even giggle when we see a bit of ourselves in him. Being a part of his life is increasingly becoming of utmost importance. (You know I am bad when I show more photos of him than some of my co-workers do of their own kids.) Yes, I know I use my iPad and iPhone around him and this all has me concerned about my own device usage and how we should be presenting ourselves to him in these formidable years.

Thoughts on gathering feedback

As a follow up to an earlier piece on feedback, I reached out to Bridget — a friend and HR executive — to get her professional take on how to best approach the gathering of feedback.

These were my takeaways:

  • It would be helpful to have an actual conversation…maybe not with each and everyone, but a few.
  • Send an introductory email along with your survey, something like the message I sent ahead of this conversation. (e.g. “Between client work and not having an annual review, I realize I really need to build in some feedback loops for myself. And I’m looking for your input.”)
  • Anonymity is important.
  • People will gravitate towards the positive if they know that you know it’s them. That’s been my experience.
  • If it is a service or a product you could setup follow up conversations, but where personalities are concerned… (when asked if I could give the respondent the opportunity to opt into a post-survey live conversation)
  • You probably want to get feedback on behavioral stuff, which can be hard to swallow
  • I always ask “Would you recommend this person to a friend or colleague” in the context of, say, fast-forward 10-15 years, someone contacts you and says, “Hi, I’m going to be working with Donald, what do you think of him?”
  • What am I doing well?
  • What should I be focusing on improving?
  • What do you wish I could do better?
  • Start with the positives. If they can say the positives, they are more likely to be able to say the negatives afterwards.
  • You’re doing this on your own, for your own benefit, you’re actively soliciting feedback, so people are going to be honest with you.
  • We ask the same question a couple different ways.

She is going to dig around for some 360-review type questions to help so me a potential framework for the survey, for which I am grateful. This conversation alone gave me a much better sense for the things that matter most as I build the survey.

One lingering question was really cleared up for me: who am I sending this to? The most sensible thing seems to be separating the behavioral questions from the project-based questions. I might give the behavioral questions to a select handful of people, while the broader project-based work questions would go to everyone I interact with, across departments.

I will also plan to sit down with my supervisor afterwards, once I have all the survey input, and have a chance to review and reflect on what I have read. He and I can discuss his feedback and I can leverage his perspective when it comes to better understanding the overall feedback I receive.

On another note, I have really enjoyed using Typeform to publish my surveys. It has a conversational flow to how the questions are served up. But recently, Survey Monkey has had a major facelift to its services and for this and other upcoming surveys I am going to give it a try.

Next step is to build the survey. I am going to send it to Bridget, too, to get her opinions before I launch it to a few colleagues.

Do you believe the world is flat?

In November 2017, there was the Flat Earth Conference, where a small (yet surprisingly large) number of people convened to share and reveal in their belief that the world is indeed flat. To say that everyone in the world knows the earth to be round would be a false statement. I think we can agree that a vast majority of people do know and/or believe and trust the earth to be round… or spherical to be more precise. Who would go around quoting the dissent as a way to disprove the majority? Unless you, too, believe the world to be flat, accepting a fallacy.

Why then is this different when it comes to economics?

Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, my home state, said in an interview that she does not agree that the tax bill would increase the deficit.

She cited an economist, Glenn, the Dean of the Columbia School of Business. I get that. She found one. Maybe a handful. But she went so far to say that economists don’t all agree. True. However, at what point do you conclude there is enough consensus? How many experts — scientific or otherwise — need to form a consensus before it is enough?

When asked “what evidence do you have that this works in this way?” She provided an unresponsive answer. She did not cite evidence, but rather espoused the work of a minority of economists who agree with her position. This means one of a few things: a) Senator Collins does not understand the assumptions and requirements of the economic model she speaks of in a meaningful way as to address the question, b) Senator Collins does not require evidence in making her decision, c) the evidence provided by countless other economists was found unconvincing, d) Senator Collins has reason to believe this tax plan, unlike any other before it, will in fact spur the economy in a meaningful way, and e) Senator Collins does not see past tax cuts as being evidence counter to her point.

What politicians like Susan Collins have done is to change the debate. They have reduced these important conversations down to whether or not you have a single expert willing to go to bat for your viewpoint. We may never have 100% agreement on anything as a nation, and that’s okay. Leveraging that as a way to justify a position is weak and lazy. Our democracy deserves better.

That is to say that we deserve real debate in a format allowing popular or unpopular ideas to be presented and supported by evidence to create understanding. I suppose there are even times when the minority is correct, when a single voice can speak up and change our course. This does not give us permission to ignore facts, place causation where there is none, and set aside our own history.

So what is actually going on here? What are Senators — Republicans — trying to do here? One comment made on The Daily, a podcast from the New York Times, is that the tax plan will largely impact high-tax states, which also are the more left-leaning, in an attempt to get them to reduce spending by cutting services. Is that really the philosophy at work? What is the true motivation and intention by these elected officials? What forces are at play here and how is it that the press has not been able to push them on these points to get us one step closer to actual debate?

Why I am applying to an MBA program.

This past fall, I celebrated my college reunion, marking ten years since I began a sales career as a technically-minded, people-person. In that time, for me, I realized, it has always been about creating new things. My entrepreneurial attitude is central to this, whether I was conceptualizing and bringing a new international graduate experience to life or building a mobile app designed to capture and monetize local business loyalty. Yet, a key aspect to this has always been missing: risk. I have maintained a safety net. In hindsight, my decision to launch my own business two years ago was a tacit admission that I needed to embrace risk in order to define my own future, my own success, and ultimately my own impact.

Formed in 2016, InQwired LLC, is my boutique management consulting firm and creative outlet where non-profits and small businesses can turn for sales and marketing talent. The experience of starting InQwired has been eye-opening. While I continue to operate it, the biggest challenge continues to be the very definition of this business and translating the ideas and goals into a cohesive, coherent message. What is the nature of the work and how do I position myself within the market? How do I build out a team to scale operations while delivering an exceptional service? What kinds of work can I take on and which jobs are better referred to others?

Oddly enough, the things I help others accomplish are exactly the things on which I need to focus. The more I delve into owning and operating this business, the more I realize the limits of my own business literacy. This, coupled with a tremendous desire to become a sales and digital marketing authority, has led me to the conclusion that pursuing an advanced business degree is both fitting and timely. My clients and I would both benefit from the breadth and depth afforded by the comprehensive curriculum of the MBA, which will help future-proof my career and my value.

In the pursuit of building a business, I would personally benefit from both the knowledge gained (e.g. finance, organizational strategy) and bolstered (e.g. sales, operations). In part, the safety net mentioned previously had been the talent I surrounded myself with while in previous organizations. The full-time MBA will not only give me the platform to learn and demonstrate new proficiencies in business, it will allow me to contribute my perspectives and bond with a dynamic, diverse, and collaborative cohort. There is something to be said for going through a full-time cohort program, especially for an entrepreneur. The camaraderie and shared experience can be a powerful way to inspire and discover others with similar passions to drive the creation of new enterprises.

The UConn MBA experience will instill in me a renewed sense of courage — a boldness — necessary for defining and taking a business to market. The business ideas I bring can be refined through various course work and potential opportunities like CCEI. The program also provides the opportunity to find like-minded individuals and maybe future business partners.

Through CCEI and the summer intersession, I envision forming a small team and going through an accelerator-like experience to hone the right strategy and structure, produce thorough market research and financial analysis, and capture the necessary talent. As I have engaged with more prospective clients, I have discovered there is a need beyond traditional consulting services — a just-in-time expertise or agile talent, still project-based, that they can turn on and off when they need. This experience will allow me to incubate and validate those ideas, building a sound but nimble foundation.

Beyond these next two years, I plan to continue pursuing lifelong learning. While the concept has always been ingrained in me, it has only taken on real meaning in the past year, mainly that I need to take it upon myself to read more, observe more, and — this is the part I had yet to internalize — create more. As an extension of that, I want to develop myself into a thought leader and someone who can contribute to the broader body of knowledge. An aspect of this is building a personal brand and making sure I have an appropriate outlet to reflect and author my own content and to be my genuine, curious self.

Why UConn specifically? Attending a public research university in Connecticut will allow me to better understand business, yes, but also in the context of our State political and social climate. Anyone can take their career to Silicon Valley or Austin or Seattle, but perhaps a worthier endeavor is right here in our local communities. I have resided in the greater Hartford area, calling it home for over ten years now, and I think there is a real need to problem solve right in our own backyard — to distinguish Connecticut’s business environment and give people a greater reason to call this place home.